Stachybotrys chartarum (Black Mold)

Black Mold (Stachybotrys chartarum) is a greenish black fungus that grows on material with a high cellulose and low nitrogen content, such as on wood or paper that have gotten very wet for more than a few days. If wood, paper,wallboard or fiberboard gets wet and is not cleaned up and dried, this fungus may grow and spread. The fungus is black and slimy when wet. It does NOT grow on uncontaminated plastic, vinyl, concrete products, or ceramic tiles. It is NOT found in the green mold on bread or the black mold on the shower tiles.

Stachybotrys chartarum is a fungus that has been found to cause animal and human mycotoxicosis. Some common symptoms in humans can be a rash, especially in areas of the body subject to perspiration, dermatitis, pain and inflammation of the mucous membranes of the mouth and throat, conjunctivitis, a burning sensation of the eyes and nasal passages, cough, tightness of the chest, bloody rhinitis, fever, headache, and fatigue.

Over the past 18 years in North America, evidence has accumulated associating this fungus with serious problems in homes and buildings and one of the causes of what has become known as the "sick building syndrome." This fungus has resulted in multimillion-dollar litigations and has caused serious problems for homeowners and building managers who must deal with the issues and remediation.ehp online, Indoor Environment Notebook

Prior to 1986, there were publications about Stachybotrys chartarum, but none that indicated Stachybotrys chartarum as a potential problem in homes or buildings. Things begin to change in 1986, when there was a reported outbreak of trichothecene toxicosis in a Chicago home. The family had complained over a 5-year period of headaches, flue-like symptoms, recurring colds, diarrhea, fatigue, dermatitis, and general malaise. Upon investigation, spores of Stachybotrys chartarum were revealed in air samplings taken from their home. The fungus was found growing on wood fiber ceiling material, and on some moist organic debris in an uninsulated cold air duct. The home had a chronic moisture problem that encouraged mold growth. Samples from the air duct debris and the contaminated materials were found toxic to animals tested and several macrocyclic trichothecenes were identified in the extracts. When the mold problem was corrected, these symptoms associated with trichothecene toxicosis disappeared.

In 1993-1994, in Cleveland, Ohio there was an unusual outbreak of pulmonary hemorrhage and hemosiderosis in infants. This is rarely observed in infants that initiated an intensive study into the cause of the problem. Researchers found that all the homes of these infants had high levels of Stachybotrys chartarum as well as high total fungi growing in the homes of the sick infants. Furthermore, isolates of Stachybotrys chartarum from the homes were shown to produce trichothecenes. The homes had previously sustained water damage that resulted in the mold contamination. style="mso-spacerun: yes" 

However, there is considerable controversy about the role of Stachybotrys chartarum in pulmonary hemorrhage in the Cleveland incident.  Some members of the scientific-medical community believe there is insufficient evidence to prove a solid causal relationship between Stachybotrys chartarum and these health problems.

Mycotoxin poisoning by Stachybotrys chartarum fungi is referred to as stachybotryotoxicosis.

Numerous studies have demonstrated the toxicity of toxins from Stachybotrys chartarum on animals and animal and human cells.

In addition, the fungus produces nine phenylspirodrimanes (spirolactones and spirolactams) and cyclosporin, which are potent immunosuppressive agents. It has been suggested that the combination of trichothecenes and these immunosuppressive agents may be responsible for the high toxicity of this fungus.

The possibility exists that there are multiple modes of action for Stachybotrys chartarum to affect human health. Mycotoxicosis is clearly important but the immunosuppressant compounds may also have a role, although it is not clearly understood.

Although there are many unanswered questions about the effects of Stachybotrys chartarum on human health, the accumulation of data over the past 65 years tells us that one should not handle materials contaminated with Stachybotrys chartarum without proper safety procedures and indicates that indoor environments contaminated with Stachybotrys chartarum are not healthy for anyone, especially children, and could result in serious illness.

Stachybotrys chartarum Indoors
Wet conditions are required to initiate and maintain growth of Stachybotrys chartarum. The fungus is most commonly found in homes or buildings that have sustained water damage from broken pipes, roof, wall or floor leaks, sewer back-ups, etc.  It is commonly on the paper covering of gypsum wall board, but can be found on wallpaper, cellulose based ceiling tiles, paper products, carpets with natural fibers, paper covering on insulated pipes, in insulation material, on wood and wood paneling, and on general organic debris. The paper covering on fiberglass insulation is another area for growth. Spores of Stachybotrys chartarum are in the soil and during flooding can be introduced by floodwaters or the dust and dirt entering with the water incursion. Also, at the time of construction, building materials can have a coating of dust or dirt that contains Stachybotrys chartarum. The fungus can be hidden in the ceiling, walls or floors with no or little visible evidence within the interior of the room. The spores however, can contaminate the interior of the room through holes and cracks in the building materials or by being transported by the air handling system. Condensation due to poor design or faulty heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems can promote the growth of fungus. The common name “Black Mold” derives because the fungi usually produce large amounts of conidiophores and conidia giving the substrate a black appearance that can be slightly shiny when fresh and powdery when dry. After flooding, Stachybotrys chartarum has been observed growing profusely on the paper covering of wallboard within a week after floodwater was drained from the building.

Detection and Remediation
Detection of Stachybotrys chartarum is usually by visual inspection and/or air and surface sampling. Because this fungus is not readily airborne compared to other fungi, air sampling in a contaminated indoor environment may show low levels of spores in the air. Inspection of potential sites of contamination, especially in covered and protected places, is a necessity to determine where the fungus occurs and the level of contamination.

If areas contaminated with Stachybotrys chartarum are discovered, do not attempt to solve the problem without following recommended safety procedures for working with toxic molds, especially if heavily contaminated. Seek advice from professionals to avoid a potentially serious problem.

While removing materials you can disturb the contaminated areas creating dust that can increase exposure to the fungus and its metabolites. An approved respirator, gloves, and eye and skin protection should be used to handle Stachybotrys or any other Molds. Contaminated materials can be disposed of in plastic bags to reduce handling of infested materials. Disinfecting contaminated materials with mold growth may kill the fungus on the surface, but mycelium within the substrate will often survive and grow again. Also, mycotoxins may accumulate in contaminated material. You should remove all contaminated materials from the premises as soon as possible.

Home and building owners who suspect mold problems can acquire the services of consultants such Midwest Mold Inspectors to test for and identify molds, plus obtain advice on remediation.

Home Flooding
After a flooding has occurred, begin immediate aggressive action to correct moisture problems to prevent indoor contamination by Stachybotrys and other molds!

Additional Information

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Update on Pulmonary Hemorrhage/Hemosiderosis among Infants-Cleveland, Ohio, 1993-1996. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Vol. 46, No. 2., January 17, 1997. (Internet

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Acute Pulmonary Hemorrhage/Hemosiderosis among Infants- Cleveland, January 1993-November 1994. Morbidity and Mortality Report, Vol. 43, No. 48, December 9, 1994. (Internet

Montana, E., Etzel, R., Allan, T., Horgan, T., and Dearborn, D., Environmental Risk Factors Associated with Pediatric Idiopathic Pulmonary Hemorrhage and Hemosiderosis in a Cleveland Community. Pediatrics, Vol. 99, No. 1, January, 1997.

Fact sheets and other indoor air quality related publications including "Biological Pollutants in Your Home" and "Flood Cleanup: Avoiding Indoor Air Quality Problems" are available from:
Indoor Air Quality Information Clearinghouse,
P.O. Box 37133
Washington, D.C. 20013-7133
(800) 438-4318 or (202) 484-1307

Also visit the web site of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,
Indoor Environments Division

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